Category Archives: heritage

Lascaux: an intangible monument

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I’ve been reading an essay by Rosemary J Coombe about world heritage in an age of neoliberal politics.

Whereas a monolithic state may once have strived to preserve monumental artefacts and artworks of supposed universal appeal, we now have a web of agencies both within and outside of government that connect around artefacts that may not even be tangible.

Efforts to preserve a rare language or a local cuisine are now validified, and the actors who lobby to give them listed status with UNESCO World Heritage Sites, are as likely to be from the community as from the corridors of bureaucratic power, or so it is hoped.

Intangible cultural heritage even has an acronym (ICH) and ICH has comprised many of the efforts of a 21stcentury UNESCO, in a bid to redress the 19thcentury bias towards Western Europeans which ‘monumental heritage’ is said to represent.

  • But what about a monument which is 20,000 or even 40,000 years old? Is it possible to ‘inherit’ culture which predates written history?
  • If Lascaux is closed to the public, and virtualised in the form of digital reproductions and multiple nearby replicas, how tangible do the original caverns become?
  • And given the little we know about correlatives to the parietal art (which many believe included storytelling, music and/or dance), is Lascaux largely intangible? If so, do the caves represent lost ICH?

Whatever the case, one cannot today conceive of Lascaux without UNESCO World Heritage Status. Even if it remains to be seen how the network of bureaucrats and heritage practitioners line up to support its preservation, presentation, and promotion around the world.

The Minister for Culture may once have closed the caves to the public , but the arrangement in place to keep them closed is described by Coombe as an ‘assemblage’ of interests from the public-private, local-national-and-global joint ventures who compete and collaborate to manage the site at Montignac.